Interview with Pat Mozden, Enrichment Team Coordinator
Pat Mozden is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Enrichment Team. She has been volunteering at HHS for a little over 3-years. She is also the past president of the Obedience Club of Daytona where she has been involved as a dog trainer for over 20-years. We asked Pat to sit down for an interview to share her experience with HHS.
HHS- Why do you volunteer for HHS?
PM- I love animals and I love working with dogs. I have experience with dogs and I thought my skill set would be helpful to the organization. I believe in contributing to the community. The community was good to me during my working years and now it’s time for me to give back.
HHS- You mentioned during your working years; what did you do prior to volunteering?
PM- I was an insurance agent for thirty-years. I originally came to Florida in 1972 after graduating from a college in upstate New York with a degree in Speech and Language Therapy. That field typically requires a master’s degree, so I enrolled at Florida State to escape the cold of the Northeast. I completed my degree and secured a position in Daytona Beach as a Speech and Language Therapist in the public school system where I worked for 10 years. Although I enjoyed that position, after several years I wanted to try something else. I ultimately became an insurance agent representing life, health, and Medicare products. I retired about 18-months ago.
HHS- Tell me a little bit about your involvement with the dog enrichment team?
PM- I’m fascinated by animal enrichment and how it benefits the animals. For a longtime, shelters were nothing more than a warehouse for animals that nobody wanted. We fed them, gave them water and put a roof over their head but that was about it. Fortunately, animal care has come a long way since then. The benefit of animal enrichment was first observed nearly 100 years ago but it wasn’t until the 1960’s – 70’s that the agricultural and zoonotic communities began talking about it seriously. Farmers realized that their cows gave more milk if they were happy and zoos observed improved mental and physical health when animals had activities to engage in. Today the benefits of animal enrichment are well recognized and the practice has expanded to everywhere there are animals – including household pets. Enrichment in shelters has really taken off in the last couple of decades as we have observed that even in the best shelters, without some kind of enrichment, animals can deteriorate and become less adoptable. Adopters aren’t drawn to dogs that don’t look friendly or don’t interact with them. Enrichment helps the animals adjust to their environment and makes their stay with us more enjoyable. But shelters are always dealing with limited budgets and staff so building a volunteer enrichment team makes a lot of sense.
HHS- What is a typical enrichment activity here at HHS?
PM- The core concept of enrichment is to provide something different/novel in the dog’s environment, preferably something they can engage with. Since most animals are motivated by food, enrichment typically involves activities that reward them with food. For example, volunteers at HHS made an activity out of 10 in lengths of PVC pipe. We drill two holes large enough for the food to fall out, glue a cap on one end and a screw-on cap on the other end, fill it with food and give it to the dogs. The dogs quickly learn that moving the pipe around causes the food to fall out. They have to think about what to do which is another goal of enrichment – activities that require them to use their brain.
HHS- How does enrichment provide opportunities for volunteers?
PM- Enrichment offers an opportunity for people who want to work with the dogs but are not up to the task of actually handling them. Many of the shelter dogs are large and quite young, and therefore can be challenging to control. If a volunteer has physical limitations that will often make it difficult to handle the dogs safely. In the enrichment program, we don’t handle the dogs but we are working directly with them in a way that both the volunteer and the dogs enjoy. We get instant feedback from a dog when their Frisbee is coated with peanut butter, or when we give them a frozen popsicle – two other activities we use weekly. Their attitude and demeanor changes within seconds and confirms the dogs like the treats they are receiving. Everybody wins.
HHS- Your role is the coordinator of the enrichment team – correct?
PM- Yes, to keep the program running smoothly, we need someone to coordinate schedules, keep track of supplies, and train new volunteers for the team. I also fill in when one of the scheduled volunteers has a conflict and will miss a day.
HHS- You started volunteering as a dog walker.
PM- Yes. My only intention was to come out once or twice a week to walk a few dogs, but my focus turned to enrichment. If I am at the shelter for enrichment tasks and happen to have some time available, I will still walk a couple of dogs. It’s a chance to get to know them better. And it’s fun.
HHS- How has COVID impacted enrichment?
PM- It’s been difficult due to the necessary COVID restrictions such as a limiting the number of people in one area and asking volunteers over sixty to not come to the shelter for their own health and safety. A large percentage of the volunteers are over 60 and retired – that’s why they have the time to volunteer. We’ve been lucky to have enough volunteers under 60 to keep the program going but we are stretched thin and it’s an issue that’s on my mind every day.
HHS- Have you been able to recruit any new volunteers?
PM- I am creating some videos demonstrating what we do in enrichment so people can get a better understanding of our activities and perhaps consider joining the team. At the moment, HHS is not taking new volunteers due to COVID complications, so I am concentrating on current volunteers who might like to add enrichment to what they are doing at the shelter. As soon as we are able to train new volunteers, I’m confident we will have some new faces. And, of course, I can’t wait to welcome back our regular team members.
HHS- Tell me a little about your involvement with Obedience Club of Daytona (OCOD)?
PM- I have been a member of OCOD for twenty years and have served as president twice. My most recent term was for 4 years and just ended December 2019. I have also been an obedience instructor for most of the 20 years which has given me the opportunity to work with a large number of dogs with varied personalities and behaviors. As a trainer, my goal is to help the owner learn how to teach their dog to be a polite and well-behaved member of the family because a dog that is pleasant to live with is much more likely to stay in that home for their lifetime.
HHS- Do you feel requiring adopters to participate in at least one basic obedience class would be beneficial?
PM- Absolutely. Many failed adoptions are the result of adopters expecting the dog to fit into their new home from day one without any hiccups and that rarely happens. Most dogs will take several weeks or even several months to adjust. A class would help owners form realistic expectations for their new family member and give them a resource for learning how to handle the issues that can arise as the dog adjusts to their new home.
HHS- Is there anything else you would to add?
PM- The changes that have transpired at HHS during the last three years have been very impressive. From empowering the staff to be proactive, to the massive campus and facility renovations, and the addition of a fourth play area for the dogs, these have all enhanced the mission of providing a high level of care for the animals.
One change that affected me personally is the improvement in the dog walking program which now offers online education, on-site training with mentors, online scheduling for walking times, and plenty of involvement and support from the volunteer manager. None of that existed 3 years ago and the improvements resulted in a substantial increase in the number of dog walkers. That allowed me to shift my focus to enrichment knowing the dog walking program was well staffed with other volunteers.
Overall, the planning and long-term vision provided by Miguel is creating a community resource to be proud of and I’m happy to be a part of that mission.